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Faux Outrage

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Monthly Archives: February 2012

The accusations began suddenly and strangely.

The bold ones would simply declare, “You are left-handed!” while those compromised by self-doubt or a sense of humility and calm would less confidentially raise this serious allegation in question form:

“You’re left-handed, right?”

“Right.”

(ABOVE) An emporium of woe.

“That’s what I thought.”

“No, right.”

“You’re a righty?”

“Yeah, right.”

“So you are a lefty?”

“No, right.”

[etc.]

These types of conversations consistently left both parties confused, and following each successful defense of my correct-handedness, the accusing party would always walk away muttering the same sentence: “I don’t know why I always thought you were a lefty.”  And I didn’t know either.  For years, I could not understand why I was so often called upon to defend myself from the serious, frightening allegations of left-handedness.

I used the regular scissors in grade school!

Notebooks are made for me and my people!

Standard manual can-openers do not frustrate me in the slightest!

And then one day, all at once, “miraculously” and without warning, I immediately realized why close companions would come to the conclusion that I was left-handed, even if they had no idea where the assumption came from: I wore a (calculator!) watch on my right wrist.  For whatever reason, I did not receive the memo explaining that you are supposed to wear your watch on your non-dominant wrist.

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a rebel.

We tend to think of watches as a wardrobe staple, but the reality is that until the First World War — when watches were tied to the wrist with a leather strap for easy access — wristwatches were thought of as exclusively within the feminine domain.  To illustrate this point, in The History and Evolution of the Wristwatch, one gentleman lets it be known that he “would sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch.”

Do you think he would be surprised to learn that today men wear both?

The common wristwatch rose in popularity throughout the early 20th century, buoyed in part by the invention of a self-winding system in 1923 by John Harwood (who is not famous enough to have a proper Wikipedia page but does have this).  By the end of the 1960’s, new electric-powered watches flooded the marketplace and by the 1980’s, electronic timekeeping devices had seized a majority control of the watch market.

It’s all true.

And yet, I think the day of reckoning has come for electronic watches.  For mechanical watches, too.  In twenty years, I would not be surprised to learn that watch market has completely collapsed, and that the folks still buying “timepieces” (as they will undoubtedly be re-branded in the future) are the same people who keep a record player in their house and/or are exclusively interested in the art and status of the watch.  Excuse me, the “piece.”

These days, though we may have many problems, we happen to know what time it is.  We have our cell phones, we have our computers, and we can tell by the position of the moon when The Daily Show is about to start.  Watches had a good run, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t be surprised when there is a 60 Minutes report in 2026 where Andy Rooney Jr. III laments the fact that we no longer have the human decency to wear watches.

Oh, and it would sound a little something like this (read in the voice of Andy Rooney):

Whatever happened to watches?  We still need to know what time it is, so why is it that people no longer wear a watch on their wrist?  My dad always wore a watch, and he was never late.  Watches don’t just tell time; they tell a story.  Why, when I was a boy, a watch was a sign of adulthood.  I got my first watch when I was 8.  My mother gave it to me.  She would tell me to be home by six o’clock, and by golly, if the minute hand — do you remember those? — one was click past 12, she would give me a time out.  I still have that watch, by the way, and every time I look at it, I remember to call my mom and make time for the woman who gave it to me.  A watch reminds us there is only so much time.

I am a little bit ahead of the trend, giving up my watch around 2004, and I am happy to report that I’ve barely noticed any change at all.

The only difference now is that nobody thinks I’m left-handed.

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Not long ago, while walking from the grocery store back to my apartment, I passed a man who by all accounts — or at least one specific account, mine — was in dire straits.  My evidence?  The fact that he approached and asked me for some money.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a detective.

Now, I’m not so obtuse as to believe that the mere fact a person asks/begs/pleads/juggles for money automatically means that he is homeless or “down on his luck” in a meaningful, dickensian way.  But I do know that whatever inspires a person to ask a stranger for money, whether it be desperation, depression, or any number of soul-crushing addictions, it is a behavior that I cannot (or perhaps choose not to) imagine exhibiting.

In that sense, if nothing else, it is fair to say that the person in this story is worse off than I can imagine.  That said, there are a couple of reasons why I felt it a tad strange — or at least a bit uninspired — that this particular man in this particular situation asked me for straight-up American currency.

Number one, I didn’t have a hand free to dig into my pockets (wherein the currency theoretically resides).  And number two, the reason I did not have a hand free to dig into my pockets was due to that fact that I was carrying two enormous bags of food.

Food, glorious food!

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I’m a softie, though, so I said to the guy, “Honestly, I don’t have any change, but how about a peach?”

A pause.

“Nah.”

Yes, after quick consideration, this man — possibly homeless — sighed out a half-hearted nah.

Nah.

I was floored.

First of all, if you’re asking strangers for money, you should at least have the decency to pretend you’re interested in using that money for food.  Food like a peach!  If nothing else, this perception needs to be a part of any money-taking routine/charade:  You pretend that you’re not going to put my $0.60 toward a Steel Reserve tallboy later on, and I pretend not to know that very same fact.

That’s the deal.

But then, as I turned the corner and headed home, my anger rapidly faded into confusion.  The more I thought about the interaction, the more I realized that the awkwardness and indignity I felt ultimately had nothing to do with poverty, politeness, shame, gentrifier’s guilt, or any social science theory neatly explained in a Sociology 101 textbook.

Nah.

This is about peaches!

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Who, no matter what his circumstances, turns down a free peach?

I don’t care if you’re looking for drug money, beer money, beer-laced-with-drugs money, or not looking for anything in particular.  When someone offers you a free peach, you take the free peach!

Peaches are wonderful.

Free peaches are manna from heaven.

As a general rule, I am intrigued by these getting-asked-for-change circumstances, but that intrigue is usually followed by a sharp, painful sort of guilt that I specifically associate with my interactions with the homeless (or “homeless” if you prefer).  Leading up to — and in the midst of — these interactions, my internal monologue shifts into detached academic mode.  I carefully weigh and consider the macro-socioeconomic issues that led to the interaction, thus diminishing the actual (“potential”) suffering taking place before me.  The ease with which I am able to quickly disassociate from a very real, upsetting interaction is an aspect of my personality that I am willing — but so far completely unable — to shake.

As a result, I’m a bit of a sucker.

I say “a bit of a sucker” as opposed to “a full-fledged sucker” because I never physically open my wallet.  When I have change — as in, physical, clangy coins in my pocket — I will give it away.  Even in the event the total amount of change surpasses $1, it is available to anyone who asks earnestly.  But I will never reach for paper bills.

The paper bills are mine.

In the 21st century, this is actually a bit of a problem if you goal is to get currency in the hands of those who request/need it.  I am still perfectly willing to give away my change, but the fact is I don’t use cash much these days.  Every transaction that I can complete using a credit card will be carried out in that manner.  Basically, I only have coins in my pocket when I am returning from a Cash Only (“tax evading”) establishment.  As a result, with each passing year — though my standard for money-distribution has not changed — the amount of cash I distribute consistently diminishes.

Presumably, I am not the only one with the “change in pocket” standard for giving money to homeless people.  My guess is that there are thousands of people who are in the same boat as me: they would give more money than they do, but because they are tied to using their credit card, they are not often provided the opportunity to do so.  In the end, the pool of “available” money for the needy shrinks as credit card usage increases.

But could this be a good thing?  Perhaps, as a result of the ever-diminishing pool of money, asking people for spare change will no longer be a functional way to raise money for your food/drugs/food-drugs.  Perhaps, to the extent that us change-givers are enabling a lifestyle that ultimately should be altered, there is a net benefit to our not having any pennies, quarters, nickles, and dimes in our pockets.

Wouldn’t that be peachy?

Meek, "Keep Your Coins I Want Change"

Dearest Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is time to move on!  

It is time we recognize that some of us continue to engage in completely inefficient, illogical behavior.  It is time we recognize that we should not expect the present to resemble the past, and that our future should not — and will not! — resemble the present. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to move on.

Let’s stop leaving voicemail messages.  Forever.

It is not often suggested that society should take cues from tweens, teenagers, tweenagers, or whatever we are currently calling Our Nation’s Most Insufferable Generation (side note: do not forget that you used to be exactly like them except your clothes were somehow even stupider).

Conventional wisdom suggests that unless you’re looking for the a comprehensive list of talentless pop stars or morbidly curious what it is like to speak with someone born after Y2K, it is probably best to leave these kids alone and hope that they won’t defund medicare and social security when they grow up.

But I recommend that we actually look to them, at least with regard to voicemail.  Simply put: kids don’t get voicemails.  They understand voicemails, sure, but that is precisely why they do not get them.

The next generation knows better.

To be clear, when I say “voicemail,” I’m referring to the voicemail tied to our cell phones.  Though there are plenty of landlines still functioning all over the world, the vast majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis depend primarily on their cell phones.

Every aspect of our voice mailbox is predicated on the technology that preceded it: the answering machine.  We all know that the original purpose of the answering machine was to provide a method for a caller to convey information to a telephone owner without actually speaking to him/her.  The answering machine benefited both the caller, who did not have to call back to convey certain information, and the owner, who did not have to be there to receive it.

The answering machine was a godsend.

Amazingly, though the technology has been around since there was a wall divided East from West Germany, our cell phone voice mailboxes contain the precisely the same instructions that we’ve been boring our friends and family with since the 1980’s.  “You’ve reached the voice mailbox of Soandso.  At the ‘beep,’ please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”  I think as a people, we should be beyond this by now.  There are those who do think we have it all figured out, the ones who use their message to record a simple, “You know what to do!”

Apparently, we do not.

Thankfully, understanding the magic of the answering machine is not passed onto the next generation through DNA.  “Kids these days” — the ones who did not grow up relying on this particular technology — are able to view the machine’s usefulness through an objective lens.

And that is a good thing.

So what does the next generation understand that some of us clearly do not? Simple: they understand that the most efficient, effective way to communicate with someone who is not answering their phone is to send that person a text message.

There are those who will deem this practice “impersonal,” but I think that criticism ignores the fact that impersonality is the very essence of the original answering machine: as a rule, you are talking to nobody.  What could be more impersonal than that?  

Text messages provide several benefits over voicemail messages:

  1. Caller is able to communicate ideas quickly
  2. Caller is able to communicate ideas discretely
  3. Receiver instantly receives communication
  4. Receiver is able to quickly read/respond
  5. Receiver is able to discretely read/respond

For example, let’s take a look at this classic Seinfeld clip:

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While it may be a little bit depressing that almost every single telephone-based joke in the Seinfeld clip above would be lost on a member of Generation Text, it is emblematic of the transition that is taking place.  Since the popularization of cell phones, the following situations depicted in the clip no longer resonate:

  1. George is able to listen to an answering machine message as it is being recorded
  2. George picks up the phone in the middle of a message recording
  3. George pretends he does not know that he has been contacted by Allison
  4. George plausibly calls the wrong number in order to avoid communication

The main concern that George has with regard to being “found out” is his not wanting to go to the coffee shop because Allison might spot him there.  Can any of us still imagine a world where our being physically located by chance is the only concern we have if we do not wish to be contacted by an acquaintance or have a plausible excuse for not having received their communications?

George was living in simpler time: simply ignore the answering machine and lay low.

Today, our cell phones give us great power to contact anyone in a moment’s notice, but on the contrary as well.  None of us are ever more than a touchscreen away.  Yet, despite the fact that 21st century technology and society does not resemble this particular Seinfeld episode, many of us pretend that we still live in George Costanza’s world.  

Count yourself among this illustrious group if the piles of cassette tapes stacked behind George and Jerry’s pre-iMac computer did not register as laughably dated.  Etch your name in stone if you also recognized the song being parodied in George’s answering machine message.

Let’s all agree to send text messages instead of leaving voicemails.

Who is with me?

The next generation of Americans may not know much, but they do know the best way to get in touch with each other.  Even if you can bet what they end up talking about won’t make any sense.

In any case, you can stop pretending like this isn’t good news: you hate what your voice sounds like anyway.

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